Why Is Everyone Saying The Word 'Woke'?

Earlier this year MTV called 'woke' the 'new slang' of 2016 and now it's being used to describe outspoken feminists. So, what does it actually mean?


Yesterday, renowned feminists Emma Watson and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau organised a small get-together across the pond to discuss gender parity, sexism and their mutual love of HBO's Girls.

'The HeForShe campaign has had an extraordinary impact around the world making men champions of women's issues that are everyone's issues. [Emma's] voice is extremely important in making people realise how important this is,' Trudeau gushed about the UN women's ambassador.

Emma Watson at premiere | ELLE UK
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When we read about this story we wanted to fist pump the air (well, kind of), such is our love at the thought of two of our favourite female rights champions sitting down in the same room to share views on equality.


But then publications like The Cut started calling their meeting an 'International Wokeness Summit' and described their union as a chance to celebrate their 'mutual wokeness' and we were stumped, thinking, 'what does wokeness mean, again?'

Is it a description of an awakening to gender discrimination?

Is it a synonym for 'cool'?

As my mother would ask, 'Is it a new word for drugs?'

Here at ELLE, we'd like to think we're pretty clued up on modern culture, new fashion styles and lesser-known musical artists but, we must admit, this word throws us.


Google the phrase and you'll learn the word commonly refers to a state of awareness about what's happening in the world.

As New York poet Raven Cras explains on Bravity: 'The phenomenon of being woke is a cultural push to challenge problematic norms, systemic injustices and the overall status quo through complete awareness.

'It requires an active process of deprogramming social conditionings focusing on consistent efforts to challenge the universal infractions we are all subjected to,' she adds.

The first time the word 'woke' was widely understood to have arrived on the scene was in the chorus of Erykah Badu's song 'Master Teachers' in 2008.


Since then, the term has become a mainstay on the Internet, first noted on the online dictionary of slang words as Urban Dictionary in 2014, as a result of the Ferguson Protests that followed the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by police.

Over the years, the hashtag #staywoke has gained momentum on social media – both ironically and sincerely – with over 279,412 associated results currently on Instagram – and more recently has referred to racially-motivated police attacks against black civilians such as Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott.

Black Lives Matter banner on the streets of the US | ELLE UK
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In May, Greys Anatomy actor/activist Jesse Williams released his documentary 'Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement,' to shed light on the Black Lives Movement and racial discrimination directed towards the black community.

However, 'being woke' is not just about being aware of societal norms and injustices. It encompasses the need to search for more knowledge, understanding and truth in order to engage and challenge the negative progression or evolution of society.

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So, if you're actively pushing feminism on the agenda at work and home, you're woke.

If you're standing up against racial injustices and supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, you're woke.

If you're willing to fight against inequality, cruelty and prejudices in society, you're woke.

Stay woke.

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